I. Introduction In this essay I will discuss the problem of personal identity. I will do so by answering the question, if I was in a serious accident that put me into a vegetative state; would I want my family to pull the plug (Rauhut, 2011, p. 125)? To begin, I will clarify a few key terms; afterward I will provide my response to the question above and defend my answer using theories of personal identity. Finally, I will conclude this essay by offering my new understanding that I gained about personal identity. II. Conceptual Clarification
Two items are numerically identical, “only if both are one and the same thing (Rauhut, 2011, p. 108). ” In other words, the two items are actually one single item. For instance, the person who wrote The Republic is numerically identical to the person who wrote The Apology, this person being Plato. In this essay the phrase “vegetative state” refers to the term persistent vegetative state, which is defined as, “a state of wakefulness accompanied by an apparent complete lack of cognitive function (persistent vegetative state, 2009). What this means is that a person is still technically alive but the brain is no longer processing any information. A person who is on life support while their brain is for all intents and purposes dead is said to be in a vegetative state. III. Analysis / Argument In this section I will answer the question, if I was in a serious accident that put me into a vegetative state; would I want my family to pull the plug (Rauhut, 2011, p. 125)? I will then investigate different theories of personal identity, and ultimately use memory and souls theories to support my position.
If I were in a vegetative state I would want my family to end my life support because at that point my body would be nothing but an empty husk, with none of my identity to fill it with the awareness which gives my life meaning. Of course, the body is numerically identical to me, yet my body is not my identity. It is simply a tool which I use to express my identity. Without my brain to give my body direction, it becomes a useless machine made of flesh. The only thing my body could do in a vegetative state would be to cause my family agony as they saw a constant reminder of what I was and what now remains.
My true identity is within my brain and when that brain is dead, there would be no reason to force its fleshy containments to continue to live. My argument is supported by memory theory, which states that a person’s identity is dependent on their ability to remember their life. Memories are our identity and without them, you would have no way to know who you are. This supports my argument because in a vegetative state, I would have no memory, therefore I would lose my identity and my body becomes nothing more than a monument to the person I used to remember being.
This position is conducive to my answer to pull the plug because it means that my body is worthless without my memories. This means it would be more responsible to allow it to die in order to free up resources that could potentially help a person who could actually use it. Another theory that supports my position is soul theory. This theory proposes that a person’s identity is actually a nonphysical soul which always exists and never dies. According to soul theory, my body is nothing more than a container which is “filled” by my soul.
When this body dies, my soul continues to exist in an ethereal realm, like heaven, or possibly it could be reincarnated into a new body. Soul theory supports my position because if my body were to die, I would actually continue to exist as my soul. Thus my body is unnecessary to maintaining my identity. Another reason it supports my decision to pull the plug would be that, once my body dies, my soul could go to heaven, or be reincarnated. If this process is put on hold because my soul cannot separate from my body as long as it is technically alive, then it would be better to let it die and allow my soul to move on.
IV. Reflection Here I will discuss a few insights that I have found while I was pondering the subject of personal identity. First I learned that a person’s body isn’t necessarily what gives them their identity. Though using a person’s body is a useful tool for cursory recognition, that person could have the exact same body but different memories, and thus become a completely different person. Or that person could look like someone you know and turn out to be a completely different individual I also thought of an interesting idea that memory theory and determinism are linked.
In that, determinism supports the idea that our present and future are determined by the past, and memory theory proposes that our identity is constructed by our memories, which are our past. Both concepts reach the conclusion that the past is integral to who we are and what we will do. My first observation is applicable to real life situations because if I saw someone that looked exactly like a person that I know, I cannot assume that it is in fact that person. It could be someone that happens to look similar to my acquaintance. However, I could use memory theory in determining their identity by seeing if that person remembers who I am.